TRAGEDY OF THE FIREMAN WHO BRAVED AN INFERNO IN DOOMED ATTEMPT TO SAVE HIS BROTHER

Copyright 2003 Associated Newspapers Ltd.
DAILY MAIL (London)...01/09/2003

OLINKA KOSTER

AN off-duty fireman died yesterday after he rescued his parents from their burning home and then went back in to try and save his brother.

Alex Kent, 25, ran through choking smoke, explosions and flames to reach his brother, who was trapped in a back bedroom.

But moments after he got to 23-year-old Philip, the burning roof of the detached house collapsed on top of them.

Firemen from Mr Kent's own station in Crowborough, East Sussex, dragged the unconscious brothers from the house.

But their injuries were so serious that they died later in hospital.

Last night East Sussex's chief fire officer, Des Prichard, said his officer had 'died in the traditions of a true British firefighter'.

'He did what most people would do and tried to recover his own family,' he said.

'But as a firefighter he had a greater knowledge and understanding of what to do to help.'

Mr Kent, who had only been a fireman for 14 months and was due to celebrate his 26th birthday on Monday, had been sleeping in a downstairs room at his parents' four-bedroom home when the fire started at 2.30am.

Awoken by the sound of smoke alarms, he immediately dialled 999 before running upstairs to lead his parents, Janet and Richard, to safety.

He then braved the inferno again in a vain effort to rescue his younger brother, who was the assistant manager of a golf shop.

The blaze was so severe that three firemen suffered burns as they tried to rescue their colleague and a fourth suffered from smoke inhalation as he climbed a ladder up to the bedroom.

Station officer Julie King, a close friend of Alex's, said his colleagues had been deeply affected by the tragedy.

'We all feel absolutely distraught, but we will continue to provide a service as best as we can,' she said.

The blaze was described by a senior fire officer with 23 years' service as one of the fiercest of his career.

Alex, who had been based at Crowborough for ten months, is the first fireman to die from the East Sussex brigade.

During his brief career, he had appeared on the front page of his local paper after helping save the life of a horse that had collapsed as she gave birth.

He had also resuscitated a 91-year-old man after witnessing a road accident as he returned home off-duty. Sadly, the man died later in hospital.

The brothers had been members of Crowborough Beacon Golf Club since they were youngsters. Alex had a handicap of eight while Philip played off six.

An investigation has now been launched to establish what caused the fire, but fire crews believe it was a tragic accident.

Chief fire officer Mr Prichard said: 'It has been difficult to find out exactly what happened because the parents are so upset.'

Mr and Mrs Kent were last night being comforted by relatives and a fire brigade chaplain.

The fire was so intense that next-door neighbours had to be evacuated from their homes.

Neighbour Lawrence Maunder, 58, said: 'I have lived here for 12 years and I have known the family for much of that time.

'It was devastating to watch one of the sons being brought out and being resuscitated in the street. Events like this put life into perspective.'

One of the brothers' friends, Allen Wellings, 21, said: 'They were the sort of family you don't tend to come across in modern times.

'They were always there for each other. It is not right that this has happened to such a family.

'Alex would have run into that house to save anyone of us. They both loved their parents to bits.'

o.koster@dailymail.co.uk